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Seinfeld: "The Non-Fat Yogurt"/"The Barber"

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"The Non-Fat Yogurt"

I love this episode. I think it's just because of all the references to David Dinkins and Rudy Giuliani and the 1993 mayoral election in New York, which I remember very well, but watching it again, it is a really good one. The gang's obsession with non-fat yogurt feels very true to the characters: Kramer likes delicious things, George likes to be guilt-free, and Jerry and Elaine are fussy, him about what he eats, her about her figure. Then you mix in some healthy slapstick and farce and an attempt at topicality that really is just an excuse for more absurdism. Very nice stuff.


The "Inside Look" on this episode on the DVD is really cool to watch if you have the time, just in how everything went down to the wire on getting either Dinkins or Giuliani, whoever won the mayoral election that Tuesday, ready to appear on the show, which aired on Thursday. I'm amazed that they somehow managed to corral Rudy into doing his brief cameo sometime in between his Tuesday night victory party and the next day, but they did, and it's cute. Giuliani isn't hopelessly stiff in his 15 seconds on the show, and I imagine at the time, it really must have played well to see them turn something like that around so quickly.

They also manage to keep any political tone out of the episode (in what was a very polarized election), although sometimes maybe you can hear a hint of animosity in Jerry's voice towards Giuliani, but I may well be projecting that. Not that I have any feelings either way (I cover city politics as part of my day job, so I suppose I should present an air of impartiality). Anyway, if you watch the Inside Look, or just watch the whole alternate episode that never aired because Dinkins lost, you'll see there really is no political bent. Instead of being excited by Dinkins, Frank and Estelle exult that George's name was mentioned to Giuliani by his douche friend Lloyd Braun. And so on, and so forth.


George's story is maybe not one of his best, but I really like how handsome and charming and evil Lloyd is and how he represents everything that bugs George about having to live with his parents. I don't really think the involuntary nudging thing is very funny, although Jason Alexander carries it off well. But I do like how George is ready to commit to the bit for the rest of his life if need be, rather than admit that he was nudging Jerry for whatever stupid reason. "Lloyd doesn't know what he's up against. This is nothing to me. My whole life is a lie!" he proudly proclaims.

But the central yogurt goings-on are all great fun. You've got Kramer calling Jerry fatso and romancing the lab technician, Jerry saying "fuck" over and over, and Elaine breaking one of Lloyd's chairs on a date (sadly off-screen) because the non-fat yogurt made her so fat. The Jerry swearing plot might be my favorite, just because the idea of Jerry Seinfeld swearing is so alien to me. It's the stereotype about your parents having sex. You know, of course, that it's happened, but it just does not fit with your image of them at all whatsoever. Even funnier is that the multiple airings of the word "fuck," including those by the little kid, don't have the trickery you'd later see employed in bleeped-out network shows like Arrested Development or Southland. There, the camera would have to cut to some reverse angle or they'd move a mouth or a glass of water in front of their face because you can't even show somebody silently mouthing the word fuck. Now, I'm no lip-reader, so maybe they got around it by having them say something else and then bleeping it. But it looked like "fuck" to me. Ah, simpler times. And Jerry calling a kid a "piece of shit." What could be better?

The way everything comes together is sort of odd, though. Kramer's dalliance with the lab girl doesn't skew the results of the test on the non-fat yogurt but, instead, brings the Giuliani blood into the mix, for the purposes of summoning forth the cameo. Later, we're told that Rudy's crusade against fake non-fat yogurt is what turned the election, meaning we have Kramer to thank for everything that followed. It's all funny stuff, but it doesn't flow maybe quite as perfectly as it should, particularly in a Larry David-scripted episode. But I still like it. And you've got that little C-plot of Newman and his mail buddies holding court at the yogurt place like it's an Irish bar and his later fury when Jerry busts the scheme wide open. They don't directly acknowledge Wayne Knight's considerable heft, but he basically admits that he knew the stuff wasn't any good for him, but he was happy not to be worrying about it for once. Newman's never, ever a sympathetic character, but I feel maybe a twinge for him here.

Grade: A

"The Barber"

If "The Non-Fat Yogurt" has a touch of farce to it, this is a whole other level, an episode written by Andy Robin (who wrote "The Junior Mint" last season and became more prolific in the later, Larry David-lacking years) that has Jerry hiding in closets from a scary Italian barber, The Barber of Seville overture playing all the time; features Jerry attacking Newman with hair clippers; and closes on the image of two Italian men weeping while watching Edward Scissorhands. It is very funny, though, and has a favorite George sub-plot, featuring the mysterious Pensky file that I really do enjoy.


Let's do that first. It's one of those scenarios that seems too implausible to be true (like when George was fired and then just came back to the office the next week), but because it's George, we believe it. Obviously, in the case I cited that was taken from Larry David's life, whereas I don't believe this was, but that George would decide to resolve this situation by marching into the office and announcing he has the job is so perfect. It works because George is exactly meek and neurotic enough to conclude a job interview and walk out without actually knowing if he got the job. And at the same time, he's nuts enough to then just take an empty office and sit there doing nothing for eight hours a day to "ensconce" himself, even giving a toast at birthday drinks for a new office-mate.

The mysterious Pensky file is honestly something they could have spun off into some sort of corporate welfare melodrama, what with the imperious Mr. Pensky, impressed at George's accordion folder and his later revelation that his whole board is under indictment. I love to imagine such scenarios spinning out of one-joke setups on Seinfeld because, again, George is a character you can see doing so many different things because he's so, so dysfunctional and strange. I almost wish he didn't know what went on at the company (something to do with rest stops?), but I guess they decided the whole thing couldn't be that surreal.


The idea of Jerry being butchered by Enzo the barber for 12 years and not being able to get out of it is actually very true to life, at least for me. I know how awkward I feel at places I go where I tell one guy I'm actually gonna wait for the other guy, because I know he's better. But Robin takes that scenario and just maxes everything out, as wackily as possible. Enzo and Gino are as over-the-top as they can be, Jerry's relationship with Gino is spun out as a clandestine romance with a far better (and hunkier) Italian lover, and Enzo's anger upon being scorned is terrifying to watch. Newman is a major player, too, collecting a sample of Jerry's hair for Enzo to analyze, which is good because Newman works well with the more over-the-top aspects of this show.

There is one thing that is really just dead perfect, though, and that's Jerry's boyish haircut, which really is a stunning example of a bad haircut and a credit to the hair and makeup department of the show (who, I assume, achieved it without really cutting Seinfeld's hair). My favorite scene in the episode, by a long way, is Elaine laughing hysterically (and getting some echo laughs from George) when she sees it. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is obviously one of the most talented comedy actresses in the biz but this is one of her true strengths: laughing. She's really, really fun to watch laugh, something I hadn't realized until I re-watched this episode, and it occurred to me how much she laughs on the show and how endearing and funny it is.


Grade: A-

Stray observations:

  • Lloyd Braun is named after Larry David's manager, later president of ABC, who greenlit its last slate of real hits (Lost, Desperate Housewives, Grey's Anatomy) and was supposedly fired before any came to air because he spent so much on the Lost pilot. He is also the voice that says "Previously, on Lost." What a man!
  • I love the baggy, droopy clothes Elaine and Jerry are put in to make them look fatter. Elaine often wears such things, but to see Jerry with his shirt untucked is quite a sight.
  • "You don't eat Oreos? The way you break them open, it's like you're having SEX with them!"
  • "Tommy Tune is a very good dancer," Frank says. Estelle likes tap-dancing; Frank thinks it's all in the shoes.
  • "I think it stinks." "It smells; it smells really bad."
  • I forgot about Elaine's wonderfully moronic nametag idea. Frank likes it. "Everyone would be a lot friendlier. Hello, Sam! How you doing, Joe!"
  • "A lot of people consider me small and prestigious." "That's funny, George. You're very quick!"
  • Jerry thinks the end of the interviewer's "of course…" was "…sodomy is a prerequisite."
  • Enzo doesn't like the idea of Edward Scissorhands. "What are you going to do in the toilet!?"
  • Kramer has a different dream. "I wish I had shoehorn hands."
  • There's kind of a weird subplot in "The Barber" about Elaine's bachelor audition that is really just an excuse for Kramer to do some funny dancing. It's funny!